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Gathering firewood (Ukutheza)

Mrs. L Siphamla of Nqabeni says this practice involved going out to the forest to look for dry wood. These would be dry branches of trees. Women gathered these branches. If they find enough wood, it would be bundled up and brought back home. 

The person consulted

The researcher spoke to Mrs. L Siphamla who explained about this game. She also explained the term “inkatha” (grass coil used to pad on the head before placing the lead). The grass coil was used because carrying wood can hurt the woman’s head since there would be protruding branch fall offs. The coil could be made using grass or pieces of cloth tied together and shaped like a ring. This would be placed on the head before placing the bundle of wood or a pot of water.

Who play this game?

This game is played by girls from the age of 6 upwards.

What is used to play this game?

Girls brought chopping knives, small axes, ropes and head coils.

When is this game played?

This game is played during the day throughout the year.

Where is this game played?

This game is played in the forest where wood would be gathered.

How is this game played?

Girls from neighbouring homesteads would invite each other when going to the forest to gather wood. In the forest they look for dry trees. When they spot these they would chop off the wood using their knives or axes. They chop a lot of wood first and then put them into bundles. Bundles would be tied up using a rope. Each girl would balance her bundle on her head and bring the wood home.

Out there in the forest girls used to play other games to make the event exciting. They would eat wild fruit such as wild medlar, black berries, wild figs, berries and other fruits. At other times they also went for swimming.

Custom associated with this game

Gathering firewood was a traditional duty among African people because wood was needed to cook food. Through this game girls were preparing themselves for the future as keepers of their homesteads.


From a Masters dissertation by Victoria Mkhize for the School of IsiZulu, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Supervised by Professors P.J. Zungu and V. Prabhakaran.